After being downsized some 6 years ago from a 20 plus year career with a major high-tech company, I quickly gained an appreciation for local business networking and the impact it can have on someone who is either looking to regain employment or become a full-fledged solopreneur. In my case, it was the latter.
Wow, did I quickly learn how important networking is to your livelihood, psyche, and everything else. Unfortunately, unless someone has taken you under their wing who has experience in this area, or you've read books on the subject, there is no real way of learning how to do it effectively. Most people stumble and end up still never mastering the true art of networking for business.
Based on my experience and what I've observed in others, I'd like to offer 7 quick tips on how you can up your business networking game:
1) Have a Game Plan
Make sure that you have predefined goals and objectives before you attend any business networking event. What is it that I want to achieve? Who do I want to meet? This is critical, as attending networking meetings can be an expensive proposition in both time and money.
For example, if your billing rate is $150 an hour, calculate the cost of going to and from the meeting as well as attending the meeting itself. The opportunity cost can run into several hundred dollars or more.
In addition, there is almost always some out-of-pocket cost associated with a networking meeting itself whether it's for being an attendee or for the associated coffee or food. Think about the cost of each and every meeting before you attend and decide if it will be worth it or not.
2) Make Sure Your House Is In Order
Before you attend any meeting, you need an attractive website for your business that clearly articulates what you do .Also, have an email capture system in place with some type of give away, so that you have the ability to capture the email addresses of those who visit. You never know when someone you meet at a networking event tells someone else about you or your business. You want to make sure that you are ready for any "visits" from them.
Have a robust LinkedIn profile and position on additional social media channels such as Twitter and Google+. Others such as YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram might be of interest depending on your business and target audience, however, spend the most time on your LinkedIn profile. This will provide the greatest return on your investment.
Have an email address that ties into your business and not one that ties into your normal email account. This will help you with personal branding and show that you are serious about your business.
List your business on Google, Bing,and Yahoo, as well as other local directory sites, so that people can find you, if they elect to search for your business once returning to their offices. A lot of people just neglect this step and it helps.
Be prepared with a well thought out "elevator pitch" that you can quickly give if you're required to stand up and give it. Have a less formal one that you can give when you meet people on a more intimate basis. It would be of great benefit to you that you practice this with some friends or at some meetings that might not be as important to you as others moving forward. You truly want to perfect it.
Have nice business cards with you at all times. Spend some money on them. Don't get them from the free sites, as you only have one chance to make a favorable first impression.
3) Know Who You Want To Meet
Often times, if you're attending a local business networking even, there are ways of determining in advance who will be attending the meeting.
A lot of entrepreneurs, including myself, use networking sites such as Meetup.com to identify what meetings might be of possible benefit for growing our businesses. In the case of Meetup, you pretty much know before hand who will be attending the meeting. Go through the list and look at who is planning on going and make it a point to connect with a few of those who you feel will be of direct benefit to your business or who might be a good referral partner.
Also, consider connecting with any so-called influencers who might be attending. Whatever you do. make a list, do further research on the backgrounds of the people and be prepared! If you can connect with them on a more intimate level by knowing something about them prior to the meeting, it will help immeasurable in fostering a more solid connection.
4) Dress The Part
Make sure that you show you up at the meeting dressed appropriately. If you're in financial services, or anything dealing with people's money, dress like a banker. People want to know that they'll be dealing with a consummate professional and dressing the part helps to instill this image in people.
Make sure that you have your "game face" on and create an aura of someone who is already quite successful and confident. No one wants to deal with people who don't project this image.
Once at the meeting, connect with the handful of people who you've determined from your planning as to who might be most valuable to you. Sure you can meet and talk to others, but focus on these individuals first and foremost.
After you've talked with them, make notes about your conversation, so that you can reference some of the points you talked about in followup communications.
6) Organize Your Connections and Follow-Up
After the meeting is over, make sure you capture the contact information for those you've met in a CRM. This will help tremendously, as a few weeks later you don't want to be looking at a stack of business cards and wondering who the person is, and how you met them. I use a tool called Nimble for doing this and I've found it to be quite helpful.
Also, make sure that you follow-up with those you've met. Ask for a connection with them on LinkedIn. Send a thank you not via email telling them what a pleasure it was to meet them and that you'll be following up further with them. You want to ensure that the time and money spent to attend the meeting was well worth it.
7) Review The Results
Review the results that you realized as a result of attending the meeting. Was it worthwhile? Did I achieve what I wanted? Were the right people for my business in attendance? What was my total cost in attending and was there a sufficient ROI?
These seven steps will help you get more out of your business networking. Give them a try and let me know how they work for you by commenting on this post.